Today’s readings were probably not designed to get us ready for Advent but they provide plenty of good material for examining our hearts as we prepare to observe the conclusion of the Year of Faith and the beginning of the season of Advent. Without further ado, let’s take a second look at these readings, beginning with the First Book of Maccabees.
1 Maccabees 6:1-13
As we look in on King Antiochus, we readily see he isn’t having a good day; things were not going well for the powerful Greek potentate. First, he thought he would reclaim from the city of Elymais in Persia the many precious objects Alexander the Great and his son Philip had left behind, including gold helmets and other military gear. But the people of that city figured out what King Antiochus was up to. They fiercely defended their treasures and forced him to retreat to Babylon.
But the news just kept getting worse. While he was nursing his wounded pride over his defeat at Elymais, news reached Antiochus that the Jewish people had dealt his forces a stunning defeat. His armies were forced to retreat from the land of Judah and his desecration of the Temple, known as the Abomination, was undone.
Antiochus did not take all this in stride. No, he sank into a deep depression. He felt sorry for himself and imagined himself a benign ruler. Yet even in his self-pity he remembered that he had persecuted the people of Judah and before he died, he regretted what he had done against them. His plans had failed. He died desolate in a foreign land.
Most of us do not make plans on the scale of King Antiochus and I would assume most of us do not execute our plans with the violence and force he seemed to take for granted. But all of us make plans and quite often our plans are not God’s plans.
Although we do not think of ourselves as violent people, we are sometimes in a position to impose our will on others. If we are in a position of authority or power, it can be very tempting to run roughshod over the opinions and views of those who report to us. Like old King Antiochus, we may think of ourselves as fair and kindly, though the people who work with us and for us may see things differently. Or sometimes we can ram our ideas or our projects through the process even though they would benefit by the input and contributions of others. On occasion we can have our way by the inordinate use of charm, sarcasm, or threats of social ostracism. In these and other bloodless ways, we can imitate King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a king who thought of himself as a manifestation of the gods.
I don’t believe for a moment that there aren’t times when we have to assert authority and make decisions. Yet life has a way of teaching us to take the long view. Treating those around us with justice and kindness pays off in the long run. Listening to others and seeking extract the good from what they say usually works out better than treating them with disrespect. If we insist on singing, “I did it my way” – we’ll also end up singing, “regrets, I have had a few” – and probably a lot more than a few.
It is the unlikely figure of a king from the Greek Seleucid Empire who teaches us the importance of bringing our faith to bear on our daily life not only by treating others with kindness, justice, and respect but also by seeking God’s plans in the midst of our plans and deferring to his plans as they become apparent. My parents have taught me this by their care for my brother with special needs. His needs upended a lot of their plans but today they will tell you that Frankie is one of great blessings of their lives.
For a brief moment, let’s turn to the Gospel reading from St. Luke. This Gospel too gives us a clue about the daily living of our faith. Here we meet the Sadducees in their never-ending quest to trap Jesus, to discredit the teaching of him who is the Resurrection and the Life. So they pose a riddle for him about the seven brothers who successively married a single bride. To test Jesus, they asked him whose wife she would be in the age to come. He told them that those who enter the Kingdom of God are not given in marriage, for the redeemed will be wedded to the living God in a state of eternal joy.
What I want to focus on is the Sadducees’ attitude of skepticism and doubt. Truth to tell, many people earn their living by skepticism and doubt. No one enters into a business deal without a healthy degree of skepticism. It is important to look at the downsides of any deal. Scholars employ methodological doubt in order to find what their predecessors might have missed in the same field of investigation. So it is with those in law enforcement or in the administration of law: methodical skepticism and doubt are the order of the day.
But just as our power, authority, and plans have their limits, so too does our skepticism and doubt, especially when it comes to our faith. Our faith does not ask us to be naïve or to suspend our powers of reason but it does enable us to believe in love, and more than that, to fall in love, in love with Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, who loves us with a love stronger than sin and more powerful than death. Once we have done so, the teachings of our faith illuminate the way we live.
Conclusion: The Advent of Advent
Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year, re-introduces us to God’s mysterious plan of salvation and invites us afresh to believe so as to fall in love. Let’s allow old King Antiochus and those ill-starred Sadducees to help us purify our minds and hearts in preparing for this holy season, so that we may manifest God’s own kindness and patience with us, so that we may submit our plans to his plan, so that we may believe in order to love.
May God bless us and keep us always in His love.